It’s a Friday morning and spring is in the air. The trees are budding, the sun is shining, and PNC bank is celebrating how “green” it is — “the greenest bank in the business,” according to its website.
On Monday in West Virginia, though, 25 people died from an explosion in Upper Big Branch coal mine. The mining company involved? Massey Energy Company. By supporting PNC, which owns part of a company that invests in Massey, many of us at Penn are tacitly endorsing Massey and its blatant irresponsibility.
When students bank at PNC, none of this crosses our minds. PNC is convenient, and it’s part of the culture of Philadelphia. If you buy the bank’s marketing, PNC’s also committed to “lighting the path to a greener way of doing business.”
If all PNC did was occupy green buildings, that might be true. But that’s not the case. PNC makes money because it is a bank. Measured by deposits, it’s the fifth largest bank in the country. The overwhelming impact of its business lies in the tremendous power of leveraging this money — all $186.9 billion, according to PNC’s annual report.
When PNC speaks with its money instead of its marketing, it tells a different story. For example, PNC owns approximately 23 percent of a firm called BlackRock. PNC has significant control over BlackRock and the more-than-$3 trillion that they manage.
This matters because BlackRock invests heavily in Massey Energy Company. Massey’s most recent incident is only a small blip on its mountainous pile of problematic practices of wealth extraction. Since 2005, regulators have cited the Upper Big Branch mine for safety violations over 1,300 times. And according to the law firm Earthjustice, the government has documented over 4,600 cases of Massey and its subsidiaries illegally dumping pollution into streams. Most of these cases come from the infamous practice of mountaintop removal, a form of coal mining that blasts off the tops of mountains and dumps the remainder into valleys and streams.
With its controlling interest in BlackRock, PNC has the power to shift its investments away from Massey and similarly irresponsible companies. But it hasn’t done so. Instead, according to the Earth Quaker Action Team, three out of Blackrock energy funds’ top-10 holdings are companies that practice mountaintop removal.
PNC is making decisions that compromise the future of Appalachia, as well as the future of its stakeholders. As long as large institutions such as PNC leverage the deposits of uniformed investors to extract wealth from places like Appalachia, our economy will remain dependent on nonrenewable sources of revenue. When the wealth runs out, the communities in Appalachia and the investors in PNC will be left empty handed. Even in the short run, financing the coal industry is a politically risky calculation, especially since the Obama administration announced early this week that it is significantly limiting permits for mountaintop removal.
If you have a bank account with PNC, switching to another bank is a significant possibility. A PNC spokesman declined to comment for this column. But there’s still the chance they’ll sing a different tune. We should “go talk to the branch manager and share [our] concerns about the financial ties between PNC and [mountaintop removal],” suggested Ingrid Lakey, director of Earth Quaker Action Team and the campaign Bank Like Appalachia Matters!. “We’re asking them to take real leadership in responding to climate change,” and the destruction of Appalachia, she wrote in an e-mail. “We think the fifth largest bank in America can and should take responsibility in this way.”
The conclusion is overwhelming: PNC should not be in the business of profiting from the destruction of Appalachia. As stakeholders in PNC, we should not be allowing them to do so.
Russell Trimmer is a Wharton sophomore from Lexington, Va. His e-mail address is email@example.com. Russell-ing The Leaves appears on alternate Fridays.Comments powered by Disqus
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